HC Deb 18 October 2001 vol 372 cc1349-52 3.17 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary, Privy Council Office (Mr. Stephen Twigg)

I beg to move, That the draft Ministerial and Other Salaries Order 2001, which was laid before this House on 9th July, be approved. The March report of the SSRB—the Review Body on Senior Salaries—on parliamentary pay and allowances was debated in both Houses on 5 July and its recommendation on Members' pay was agreed. Not discussed at that time by the House was the SSRB's recommendation No. 2 that Lords Ministers should receive an equivalent increase to that of Members of this House. The proposal was passed by the House of Lords on 23 July.

The order gives effect to recommendation No. 2—that there should be an increase in Lords Ministers' pay of £4,000 in two instalments of £2,000. The effective date of the first instalment is 20 June 2001, the state opening of Parliament. The order provides for the second £2,000 instalment from 1 April 2002 payable in addition to the automatic uprating of Lords Ministers' salaries, which takes effect from the same day.

The purpose of the increase is twofold: first, to ensure that ministerial pay remains broadly comparable to that of posts in the public and private sectors, and, secondly, to ensure that the cash differentials between Commons Ministers' salaries, including their parliamentary salary, and Lords Ministers' salaries do not widen. The SSRB thought it important that Lords Ministers' pay did not lose ground against that of their counterparts in this House. The SSRB's recommendation builds on its 1999 report which recognised that Lords Ministers' pay had failed to match the responsibilities of their work. I am sure that there will be a consensus in all parts of the House that Lords Ministers play an important part in government and in Parliament, which the order recognises.

The order also gives effect to similar rises for the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition Chief Whip in the Lords. In total, 26 peers will benefit from the order, so the total cost will be modest.

3.20 pm
Mr. Eric Forth (Bromley and Chislehurst)

I have not yet been too long in the position that I now occupy, but I am already alarmed at the extent to which I find myself in agreement with the Government and Ministers, and this is another such occasion. However, this occasion allows us briefly to reinforce the importance that certainly the Opposition give to the role played by the other place and its Ministers.

I have never had any doubt in my mind, and I have even less doubt now, that the House of Lords is a vital part of our parliamentary process. It is an institution that gives important safeguards to our people, so it is important that we recognise the role played by Members of the House of Lords and, therefore, Ministers in the House of Lords. To that extent, I welcome the order today.

There are questions that are not for today but which we would do well to consider as to whether or not or how far even the SSRB recommendations give effect to making ministerial pay broadly comparable to that in the private sector, as I think the Minister said. I have always been intrigued as to how it is that even a body as distinguished as the SSRB can set out to identify some sort of comparability between what Ministers of the Crown do and what is done in the private sector.

I have always had some doubt about how far that comparability can be stretched, but let us be thankful for what the SSRB has given us. It is has given us the opportunity to make ministerial pay generally, and in this case ministerial pay in the House of Lords, at least somewhat more realistic, and for that much we should be grateful. It is for another occasion for us to return to whether ministerial pay either here or in the Lords is sufficient.

Having said that, I have one question for the Minister for the sake of clarification. The explanatory note intriguingly states: The amounts specified in this Order are the maximum salaries payable. The actual salaries may therefore be less. On what basis would the salaries be less and who would decide that they should be less? The Minister may say that the Government will decide—or more probably the Prime Minister, because he appears to decide most things—but what interests me is not so much what the Prime Minister decides for the salaries of his Ministers, but whether the Prime Minister would then decide the salaries of Opposition officeholders, as set out in schedule 2.

I ask that for clarification because, in some circumstances, it could give rise to difficult or contentious tensions. I hope that I can be reassured that my suspicions are unfounded, but I should be grateful if the Minister could expand on that delphic sentence. Having said that, we are more than happy to support the order.

3.23 pm
Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove)

I thank the Minister for bringing the order forward. It is deceptively short and bland in what it says and does. I do not pick any quarrel with the proposal for ministerial salary increases in the House of Lords and the bringing of them into line with those in the House of Commons. I would only pick up the point made by the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) in relation to comparability with the private sector, a point that the Minister raised and on which he might wish to elaborate.

When one considers the private sector, particularly former parts of the public sector now in the private sector, and when comparability is prayed in aid for the enormous salaries paid, one finds that, unlike in the schedule, we are not talking about five-figure numbers nor even six-figure numbers but, in many case, seven-figure numbers. I sincerely hope that the Minister does not intend to come back with further steps towards comparability that take us anywhere near such exceptional, excessive figures. Some of us do not accept the argument that comparability with the private sector should be the starting and the finishing point.

I want to say a little about the even less considered schedule 2, relating to the Leader of the Opposition and the Opposition Chief Whip in the House of Lords, which involves a total expenditure of £117,000 and some pence. I think that I am quoting the Minister accurately when I say that he said that the measure affects only 26 Members of the House of Lords and so does not cost much. This provision concerns only two Members of the House of Lords, and £117,000, by the Minister's standards, may not be much—perhaps a couple of hours' pay on the new rates that might come in with compared It pales into insignificance compared with the £500,000 paid by the Government to Her Majesty's Opposition in this place. It is certainly a modest figure compared with the amounts being paid here. [Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst says that it is worth every penny, but there might be several points of view on that.

Schedule 2 relates specifically to the official Opposition's role in the House of Lords and I assume that the constitutional reason for the money being paid—not the realpolitik reason—is to improve the effective scrutiny of the Government in that place and to achieve better legislation; otherwise, it is money completely down the drain. That £117,000 would be well worth it if it secured effective scrutiny and better legislation.

I was intrigued by the right hon. Gentleman's comment with regard to those being maximum figures and asking about the possibility of lesser amounts being paid to those two Members of the House of Lords. He asked who decides what money they should have. My response to that is, "He should be so lucky." These are the only two Opposition Members in the House of Lords to receive Government support. The arithmetic and the reality of the House of Lords is that there are two Opposition parties.

I look forward on a future occasion to speaking on and voting for an order that more accurately reflects the political reality and democratic faces in the House of Lords and here in relation to the financing of Opposition parties.

3.28 pm
Mr. Stephen Twigg

I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) and the hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) for their support of the order. I am sure that we can maintain this cross-party consensus between the two Front Benches. The right hon. Member for East Yorkshire (Mr. Knight) is not here now, but I reaffirm what my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House said earlier in welcoming him to the shadow Front-Bench team.

I am advised that the terminology that suggests that a lesser amount might be paid is because a Minister may decide not to draw the salary, or not to draw the full salary. There is no suggestion that the Government would award a salary increase to Ministers but deprive the Opposition spokespeople of either all or part of the salary increase. If the order is agreed today, it will apply across the board. [Interruption.] I hear cries of "Shame" behind me. I am losing votes rapidly, but no doubt the Opposition will be happy with that reassurance.

On securing comparability with the private and the wider public sector—a point raised by the spokespeople of both Opposition parties—the task is immensely difficult, which is why the House decided to parcel it off to the SSRB in the first place. When we discuss the reports, we need to consider the basis on which the SSRB made its calculations. Over recent years, significant progress has been made in dealing with a situation that was unacceptable. People who were taking on major government responsibilities as Ministers were not having that recognised in the salaries made available to them.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove made a bid for money for those on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench in the House of Lords. Clearly, that is not covered in the order, but it is a contribution that could be made to the continuing debate on the future character of the upper Chamber.

Mr. Forth

I hope that in any review of such a matter, the Minister and his colleagues will judge how far the Liberal party is a party of opposition or an adjunct of the Government. That would largely inform the extent to which it might be worth paying Liberal Members in this House or the other as pseudo-Ministers or an inadequate Opposition.

Mr. Twigg

I do not believe that there is any question of the Liberal Democrats joining the Government as Ministers in this place or the upper House. I will not be drawn into that discussion, or I may lose the limited support that I still have from Government Back Benchers.

The measure is a sensible one, implementing a proposal from the SSRB. To complete my answer to the hon. Member for Hazel Grove, it is important that the increase applies to the two Members from the Conservative Opposition in the other place, to allow effective scrutiny and debate. The proposal is modest, it will not cost a great deal, and I hope that we can agree it this afternoon.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Ministerial and Other Salaries Order 2001, which was laid before this House on 9th July, be approved.